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Polygamy in Switzerland : Just say NO!

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This is part of my installment of old posts from 2008 and early 2009 which I have chosen to republish. Some links may be dead and I will try to fix them as I go. Unlike the other posts, the comments were not added here because the old post was on its’ own page. I wrote this roughly a year ago and the advice does not change, and the case law happens at the same frequency.

I read case law when I am bored. Weird like that. Whatevs. Anyway, I read a series of interesting appeals to Swiss cantonal and federal courts recently about polygamy. I must preface this by saying that I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. However, I want to share my understanding of the current legal situation in Switzerland. As this is a hot topic in the Muslim community, I would like to make the following post as a public service to all those Pious Brothers just dying to fulfill the sunnah. Never mind the whole praying, eating halal, fasting Ramadan stuff (you know, that fard stuff), brothers who love this part of the sunnah and are considering polygamy in Switzerland, this is for you:

DON’T DO IT, YOU WILL GET CAUGHT, AND IT WILL BE NASTY. Even if you are one big happy p family.

While I am not debating the permissibility of polygamy in Islam (which someone accused me of the last time I brought this up) I will give a little food for thought about reigning jurisprudence in Switzerland to my readers. And speaking of just dying to fulfill the sunnah I do believe in following the sunnah of following the laws of the land in which you live. Anyway:

Under Swiss law, polygamy is bigamy. If you are a born Swiss citizen there is not much that happens to you should you partake in this sunnah other than eventual welfare or tax fraud charges…oh and losing custody of your children. However, if you are a foreign brother, even if you don’t care about the laws of the koofaar, the following might give you an opportunity to twist your beard a bit:

1. If you are naturalized man who is Swiss through marriage and you contract a second Islamic marriage while being married to the Swiss wife who “naturalized” you and the authorities find out about it, THEY WILL STRIP YOU OF YOUR SWISS CITIZENSHIP AND KICK YOU OUT OF THE COUNTRY. The legal reasoning behind stripping you of your citizenship is that you came about the citizenship illegally because you broke your oath to your spouse, and you broke the oath to the commune, the canton and the country to abide by its laws and polygamy is against the law. How’s that for a koofaar law?

2. If you are naturalized man through marriage and you have children born from another woman while married to the Swiss woman who gives you citizenship and the authorities find out, THEY WILL STRIP YOU OF YOUR SWISS CITIZENSHIP AND KICK YOU OUT OF THE COUNTRY if they even have the tinest suspicion of complicity on the part of the “other woman.” These children from a prior or concurrent marriage, no matter if you divorce amicably from the Swiss wife, will NEVER have the right to any kind of visa, residence permit and most definitely NOT citizenship in Switzerland if they try to get it through you. In fact, people who were married before and have kids from a prior marriage are sometimes (usually) not accepted as candidates for facilitated naturalization and have to wait ten years instead of five. So to recap, iIf your Swiss wife divorces you on grounds of bigamy, and in some cases infidelity with suspicion of bigamy (defined as an ongoing stable relationship, especially if there are kids involved) you are TOAST. Start packing. Sisters, you and your kids will never make it to Switzerland as the legal conditions for bringing family over are NOT RETROACTIVE. They only apply to kids and wives from AFTER the marriage through naturalization. In fact, if you have been married before, they can decide not to let you become a candidate for speedy naturalization, so some brothers try to be slick and lie about it on the citizenship forms, then try to “casually mention” their by that point teenage children from a prior marriage when theese children apply for visas to come “visit” daddy. Rarely, yes NEVER, works. And if the brother gets divorced too quickly and tries to bring a wife over too quick- huge red flag. The Swiss can and will eff you on retroactivity so trust when I say your FOB games don’t work with them.

I have personally read some twenty case dossiers in the last ten years (and these are only the ones that made it as far as the appeals process) where these men thought they could keep up the family back home and marry a nice Swiss lady, divorce her five or even ten years later, and try to bring first wife and kids over. Sometimes in rare cases a kid was allowed to come (once or twice out of twenty, and usually only if the mom back home died)-the first wives? NEVER. So if you are a first wife and your husband tries to spin that he is marrying the sister to get the papers to make a better life for everyone, it doesn’t happen. Not here. Of course, the above two points assume that the brother is slick enough to maintain the charade of a “sham” first marriage for five to ten years or more in order to make it to naturalization, which is notoriously hard here. Those years of duplicity to get that passport mean NOTHING if you get caught doing p. If it isn’t a “sham” marriage but a true loving p marriage, good luck getting the neighbors not to be nosy, good luck not getting caught when you “divide your time”, good luck justifying why you send money to the same person who is not legally related to you every month. Oh and you know what other argument doesn’t work? The whole, “Yeah I cheated and had a relationship but now I am making it work with my legal wife and the money is just for the kids I had out of wedlock”…if there is the tiniest suspicion that the second relationship is more than just for the kids, or that it is ongoing- guess what? The authorities assume you aren’t serious about your first marriage, which means you don’t fill or continue the fill the requirements for ongoing residence in Switzerland, or if you are naturalized, it means you got your naturalization while you are screwing around. Which means both your residence permit and naturalization can be GONE. If you try to argue that you want to stay in the same country where your kids go to school- doesn’t work. Even if your kids are naturalized Swiss or Swiss through their mother. If you are a foreign wife with a Swiss baby who is a minor, if you have custody and your marriage no longer exists, you both go back to Back Home. Yes, they will make the minor child leave until its majority. Even if the brother tries to do your job by the sunnah, you can still get busted for p. In fact, the only way not to get busted for p is for the brother to not do his job by the wife he is not legally married to. No money, no contact, no time. Cool huh? Not.

3. You are a foreign man and you have a residence permit and word gets out you’re a “bigamist”? You and your kids and anyone you are married to who is foreign will be expelled from the country and their residence permits revoked, and you usually get a ban from entering Switzerland for ten years…or twenty. This has happened time and again in case law, even with appeals to the Federal Tribunal. If I knew a foreign sister in Switzerland who was going to get into a co-marriage, I would warn her that she could lose her residency for being a party to what the Swiss consider illegal. One of the laws for legally residing in Switzerland is to follow Swiss laws, and polygamy is against the law. If you break this law, you no longer can be said to be abiding by Swiss law. I know I am repeating myself but I cannot stress this enough. Regardless of what your personal views are, the Swiss expect you to follow Swiss law. This is the country where private citizens yell at you for jaywalking. Even if the brother in the p marriage lies and says to the cops, “Oh that 2nd wife? She’s just my girlfriend, that second marriage thing is just cultural so that we could do it”- that argument does not hold up in court here. Period. (What brothers, you think no one ever thought of saying that before? That was actually in one of the judgements). Oh and the whole both of you marry two people and then get remarried and “adopt” what were actually your biological children? Doesn’t work either. Neither does both of you coming over, you both marrying two different people for papers, then remarrying once everything is in order. Red flags.

4. If you and your husband get divorced, whichever spouse brought the other to the country is the only one to stay, and of course you both go if hubby is a “bigamist.” So in Switzerland there is no musical chairs of divorce and remarriage to regularize everyone’s situation. It happens, but only succeeds once out of a hundred or so failures. If you get divorced one month after the 5 year deadline required for a C permit, they DO CHECK AND WILL REVOKE YOUR C PERMIT AS NECESSARY. I say 5 years because if you get your papers through an EU citizen or a Swiss then the deadline is 5 years. A lot of non-EU countries (with the exception of the US and Canada) have a 10 year limit. If you have a B permit, and get divorced, if they don’t kick you out immediately, the next time it is up for renewal, you won’t get it. EU and non EU citizens, the only difference is that the EU citizens can get away with it a bit longer because of the renewal timeline- spouses of Swiss are renewed once a year, spouses of EU citizens once every five.

5. The only chance a wife has to stay in Switzerland should her husband or ex husband get expelled because of bigamy, is if her kids were born and raised here and relatively old (adolescence) and her financial situation is absolutely spot on. If the kids are young the authorities just say that they are young enough to adjust to life in their own country. For SAHMs sadly a lot here don’t work. The only small chance you have on your side is if your husband “gets the urge to fulfill the sunnah” while your kids who were born here are in their early or mid teens. Oh and guess what? Sometimes, if the wife is too quick in getting a job and supporting the family and becoming financially independent, the Swiss authorities rule that she is resourceful and smart enough to make it happen back home, too. If you are a foreign wife in Switzerland and your husband starts talking about p marriage, remember that you will lose your papers if the authorities find out so REFUSE. If he persists, create a record that you refuse and that you are not party to this. Get a lawyer. Get a job. Start doing anything you can to protect yourself and your kids if things go south.

6. Let’s say things don’t go south, and hubby found a nice Swiss lady who loves you and loves partaking in the sunnah. Well good for everyone. But if an informant calls the police to say you are “bigamists”- it doesn’t matter if she is ok with it or not. The case will be investigated and prosecuted independent of the parties. This could be your/her parents, your neighbors, your boss. So living in the same apartment is going to raise eybrows, and if your hubby tries to divide his time fairly (which they never seem do but whatevs)- guess what? There’s always at least one neighbor who notices who is or isn’t coming and going. And what if the Swiss co-wife’s mom doesn’t like it and calls the cops? Same result.

7. Bigamists, when they do get prosecuted (and if they are foreign, before they get kicked out of the country), are usually prosecuted for cheating social welfare. Guess what, the wives are parties too! Which is why I said above- the second your hubby starts talking p, if you have any kind of social assistance, GET A LAWYER so that you don’t go to jail for FRAUD and get kicked out of the country and separated from your children. Legal counsel doesn’t have to be expensive, tons of free legal service in Switzerland. The earlier you speak up and say no, the better.

I am not saying I am against polygamy per se- I am saying that I am against polygamy as it is illegal in Switzerland and I will abide by Swiss law as a guest in this country and enjoin my sisters to do the same. Switzerland allows me to work and live here, but just because I pay taxes here, living here is not my “right” and can be revoked at any time. Don’t let the brothers lose sight of this very important fact. At let’s not lose sight of the essential here: while we are “following Islam” remember that when you get married, mainstream Sunni thought is that you marry with the intention of getting married forever. Marriage for a fixed time period is not permitted in mainstream Sunni Islam, and if you marry someone with the full intention of it being temporary, you will be accountable to Allah swt.

Personally I think Swiss case law is racist because nothing really happens to Swiss bigamists (some light jail time if that…oh and if you count LOSING CUSTODY OF YOUR CHILDREN) and also because the wives and kids get sent back to Back Home if the man decides to “partake in the sunnah”, but I can guarantee you that the tide seems to be turning and a man in Switzerland thinks twice about trying to pull a fast one on anyone. One of the major cases that did go to the Federal Court involved an imam officiating what he knew to be a second marriage. The p dude, instead of getting a little more booty, got a one way ticket back home. You can imagine the financial and legal repercussions on the mosque (blocked funding, problems with landlord, tax problems and so on) and now reputable imams in Switzerland do not do a nikah without a Swiss family book. Email me if you want the DL on that part. Good Imams won’t do it here. No Imam who wants to keep his mosque or masjid open will do it here. This is alhamdoulillah common knowledge in Switzerland now and a lot of men just don’t go there. While the argument could be made that the Swiss are a little hardcore for this, I think the US and a lot of other countries would be served by doing the same, at least in the short term, because I am tired of seeing sisters getting hurt and being duped into making anchor babies by ignorant brothers and ignorant “so-called” imams.

My main point is this: In the US, as I understand it, the only way a green card can be revoked for p marriage is if the American wife openly denounces her husband. This is the main difference with here: it has happened that a third party can call out a p marriage in this country. So even if you go into it fully conscious and your hubby is on board and your co wife is on board and the imam is on board and you are one big happy P family, things can go south here legally in ways you could never imagine and you, whether you are a first wife or a second wife, can get caught up in whatever bad choices your husband makes and the result can make a world of difference in yours and your children’s welfare. If you are foreign and your husband is also foreign and in a p marriage, you both go home. If you are Swiss and your husband is in a p marriage, even if you are ok with it, he will leave the country. If your husband is Swiss and you are foreign and he turns out to be a “bigamist”, your marriage can annulled and you have to leave the country but you may have to leave your children behind. If you and your husband are both Swiss and he is p, you could both face jail time, refusal of social welfare benefits and potentially lose your children. Either way you cut it, p is just NOT WORTH IT here. Even with the best of intentions, even with all parties being on board and it being all Big Love up in there, the authorities simply do not tolerate it, and it only takes one fight, one nosy neighbor, one MIL not happy with the situation to mess everything up. One case, not involving p marriage, involved a woman calling the cops on her husband after a fight. She later withdrew the complaint and got back together with him, but guess what? His residence permit was not renewed. For one stupid fight. So imagine what happens to someone who gets caught doing p. You can’t mess with the Swiss on this one. Trust.


Author: Nicole Cunningham

American Expat and convert to Islam living and working between Lausanne and Zurich, Switzerland.

One thought on “Polygamy in Switzerland : Just say NO!

  1. Salam,

    I am glad you’re back. I missed your posts!

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